A Breach of Promise, by Anne Perry

>> Tuesday, December 11, 2007

TITLE: A Breach of Promise
AUTHOR: Anne Perry

PAGES: 373

SETTING: 1860 London
TYPE: Historical Mystery
SERIES: 9th in the William Monk series.

REASON FOR READING: I'm rereading the whole series in order.

In a sensational breach of promise suit, two wealthy social climbers are suing on behalf of their beautiful daughter, Zillah. The defendant is Zillah's alleged fiancé, brilliant young architect Killian Melville, who adamantly declares that he will not, cannot, marry her. Utterly baffled by his client's refusal, Melville's counsel, Sir Oliver Rathbone, turns to his old comrades in crime--investigator William Monk and nurse Hester Latterly. But even as they scout London for clues, the case suddenly and tragically ends. An outcome that no one--except a ruthless murderer--could have foreseen.
THE PLOT: The summary above can stand, although I'd correct the "social climbers" description of Zillah's parents. They are people from outside high society trying to fit in, but their charactertization is much more subtle than that.

MY THOUGHTS: With this one, I reach the end of my collection. The next one, The Twisted Root, will be a first-time read for me, and I think that will be a relief. It seems these books made a huge impression on me when I first read them, because after over a decade, I still remember too many details. In ABOP, the one big detail that explains it all, that one big detail Rathbone is certain Melville is withholding, it flashed in my mind during the very first scene. It couldn't have been a brilliant guess, because there just hadn't been enough clues for that, so the inescapable conclusion is that I remembered it.

Surprisingly, though, knowing this didn't make reading the book frustrating, because it made sense neither Monk nor Rathbone would guess. The book was a bit frustrating, though, but for a completely different reason. Usually, I find the way Rathbone builds his cases flawless and brilliant, but here, I wanted to shake him for bungling it. This was a breach of promise case, but he allowed the opposing side to completely misdirect the case instead of focusing on the very clear point that there hadn't been a promise made, so it couldn't have been breached. He paid absolutely no attention to his client's arguments.

While Monk and Rathbone investigate their case, Hester's nursing a young man who was one of the very few survivors of a particularly savage and brutal siege during the Indian mutiny. He survived and came back to England with horrifying injuries and even more horrifying memories, and his young wife has no idea of how to deal with that. This was all completely unrelated to the main case (both Monk and Rathbone come ask Hester for advice, but there are no secret links here), but I really liked what it added to the book: a positive note, hard as it may be to belive. It adds an optimistic air to an otherwise very tragic book.



Powers of Detection, by Dana Stabenow, ed.

>> Thursday, November 29, 2007

TITLE: Powers of Detection
AUTHORS: Donna Andrews / Simon R. Green / John Straley / Anne Bishop / Charlaine Harris / Anne Perry / Sharon Shinn / Michael Armstrong / Laura Anne Gilman / Mike Doogan / Jay Caselberg / Dana Stabenow. The latter is also the editor of the anthology.

PAGES: 304

TYPE: Fantasy Mystery
SERIES: A few of the stories are part of ongoing series. That I know of: those by Anne Bishop, Charlaine Harris and Laura Anne Gilman, but there could be more.

REASON FOR READING: I liked the idea of the premise (mysteries in fantasy settings) and I was interested in reading the stories by Sharon Shinn and Anne Perry, two favourite authors of mine.

This one-of-a-kind collection features stories from some of the biggest names in mystery and fantasy-blending the genres into a unique hybrid where PIs may wear wizard's robes and criminals may really be monsters.

Sit in on a modern-day witch's trial, visit the halls of a magical boarding school with murder on the curriculum, spend some time with Sookie Stackhouse, visit London's hidden world of the Nightside, and become spellbound with eight more tales of magical mystery.
  1. Cold Spell, by Donna Andrews: This was a cute story about a wizard apprentice helping her boss investigate a seemingly impossible murder. Neither the world nor the characters were too developed, but it was nice and yes, cute.

  2. The Nightside, Needless to Say, by Simon R. Green: I disliked it intensely. The protagonist wakes up and realizes he's dead, and has to investigate his own murder. The whole thing felt pointless and silly to me, and why use this Nightside setting if it's not going to play any part whatsoever in the story? Plus, the author's attempts at humour fell completely flat to me.

  3. Lovely, by John Straley: Quite ingenious, this one. It's narrated from the point of view of a raven, and the voice is really unique and believable. The story itself is nothing special, but it was an interesting read, anyway.

  4. The Price, by Anne Bishop: This story's part of the Black Jewels series, and it's very clear here that there's a lot of backstory to everything we see. However, Bishop succeeded in making me intrigued by it all rather than irritated by what I was missing.

  5. Fairy Dust, by Charlaine Harris: Another one that's part of an ongoing series, Sookie Stackhouse this time. Even though I haven't continued on, I have read the first book, so I knew Sookie and her powers already. Here she's asked by two faeries to help interrogate the people they suspect of murdering their sister. It's an interesting mystery, and Sookie was very smart figuring it out.

  6. The Judgment, by Anne Perry: Confession time: I think I didn't quite understand the ending. The story is about a trial for witchcraft of a woman accused of using it to murder someone. There's a twist there at the end, but I'm not sure what exactly the implications were. Man, I feel like an idiot!

  7. The Sorcerer's Assassin, by Sharon Shinn: A story about a magic school where professors start getting murdered. It's narrated by the grumpy headmistress, who investigates, and her dry, sharp humour really made the story for me. The office politics in this surreal environment were fun to read, too.

  8. The Boy Who Chased Seagulls, by Michael Armstrong: Boring. There's not much of a mystery here, just an old man telling a strange story that didn't make much sense to me.

  9. Palimpsest, by Laura Anne Gilman: I didn't even finish this one. Will she or will she not succeed in stealing whatever it was she wanted to steal? I never got why I was supposed to care. I actually meant to read Staying Dead, which is the first story in this series, but I don't think I will now.

  10. The Death of Clickclickwhistle, by Mike Doogan: I kind of liked it. This one's sci-fi (the only one in the anthology), and the spaceship setting was cool. The final twist in what happened was well done, too. But... the humour just didn't work for me. It reminded me a bit of that in the Simon R. Green story in that it felt really forced and just fell flat. Serial killer names as swear words? Oh, come on! Though it did elicit a smile when one of the characters cursed "George W Bush!"

  11. Cairene Dawn, by Jay Caselberg: Another blah one. The detective needs to find a woman's dead husband so that she and her family can bring him back to life. I'm all for atmospheric tales, but Caselberg didn't succeed in creating a compelling one for me, here, and the story itself wasn't too interesting.

  12. Justice Is a Two-Edged Sword, by Dana Stabenow: I think this was my favourite of the whole anthology. It was the best at bringing to life a whole world and mythology without bogging the reader down in the details and at the same time telling a full story. I'd be very willing to continue reading stories in this universe, if Stabenow were to write them.
MY GRADE: A C+. Just not enough good stories here to raise it much above average.


Harlequin / Mills & Boon Round-up

>> Wednesday, November 21, 2007

TITLE: Mr. Family
AUTHOR: Margot Early

PAGES: 296
PUBLISHER: Harlequin Superromance

SETTING: Contemporary Hawaii
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: I couldn't confirm it with a cursory google search, but it felt here as if Erika's brother and his wife have had their own book.

REASON FOR READING: I bought it because of the AAR review, but I've had it for years in the TBR. I dug it out after Rachel, who originally wrote that review, reposted it in her blog and reminded me of why I'd bought the book in the first place.

Kal Johnson is a still-grieving widower with a young child. He can't imagine marrying again - not for love, anyway. But it's becoming increasingly clear that his daughter needs someone besides him. A mother. Kal's solution is to place an ad in the local magazine...

Wanted: Woman to enter celibate marriage and be stepmother to four-year-old girl. Send child-rearing philosophies to Mr. Family...

Erika Blade is a woman who's afraid of love. And sex. She answers the ad, figuring she's probably the only person in the whole world to whom a "celibate marriage" would appeal. After all, she does want children but she doesn't want to acquire them in the usual way. As it turns out, Kal likes her letter - and soon discovers that he likes her. More than likes. He's attracted to her. The one thing that wasn't supposed to happen.
MY THOUGHTS: This was a pleasant, heart-warming book, a modern marriage-of-convenience story that didn't feel dated, but believable. Early made me really understand Kal and Erika and thus totally see why each would feel that a sex-free marriage is exactly what is needed in their lives (that is, I saw why they would think so, but it was so obvious that it was not, lol!).

Their romance is slow and gradual and not trouble-free. There's plenty of baggage in each of them, plus, the story doesn't take place in a vacuum. Their families play an important part, especially Kal's little daughter, Hiialo, who was very well done as a character. She's cute, but she has plenty of moments when she's a little nightmare.

Just as much as their families, the Hawaiian setting and culture play a big role in the book, and this was an element I loved.

Negatives? Well, I did have a stylistic issue: headhopping. This isn't something I usually mind, and I actually love it when it's skillfully done, but here I had to stop quite a few times to try to figure out in whose head we were.

MY GRADE: A B. It was a very enjoyable book, but I didn't love it.

TITLE: The Norman's Bride
AUTHOR: Terri Brisbin

PAGES: 289
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historical Romance

SETTING: Medieval England
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: Comes after The Dumont Bride, which I read last month.

REASON FOR READING: I was very doubtful, but I wanted to see if Brisbin would succeed in redeeming the hero.


Though recalling nothing of her own identity, Isabel was certain her rescuer, Royce, had been a knight.Every fiber of his being bespoke a chivalry simple seclusion could not hide. And every sinew of his body bestirred a passion that would rouse her to her true self as Royce's heart-sworn lady!

Yet William Royce de Severin could not quell the waves of desire threatening to engulf him whenever he looked upon Isabel. Battered by life, she remained unbroken in spirit, making him yearn for the impossible-a life unfettered by his own dark secrets, with her forever by his side!
MY THOUGHTS: Those who've read The Dumont Bride will understand why I was so doubtful about Brisbin being able to redeem William de Severin. In the previous book, he did some horrible things. He was being basically blackmailed into it by Prince John, who was holding his sister's life over William's head, but still.

In this, his book, William (who now calls himself Royce) has been living incognito for a few years in the keep of the protagonists of a previous Brisbin book, The King's Mistress. Everyone thinks he's dead, and he feels this is just what he deserves. But one day he finds a woman who's been beaten up and left for dead not too far from his house, and that changes everything.

TDB was just very lukewarm. I didn't see much attraction between Royce and Isabel, and I spent most of the book feeling quite bored with it. The main problem might have been that I think I was supposed to believe Royce deserved to forgive himself and be happy, and so on, but I just wasn't completely convinced of this at all. This was not really because of his actions in the other book, because as I said, he was under duress at the time, but because of all the other things he did before that, things I thought were much worse and which were only very lightly mentioned here.

MY GRADE: Like the first book in the series, a C-.

TITLE: A Reputable Rake
AUTHOR: Diane Gaston

PAGES: 298
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historical Romance

SETTING: Early 19th century London
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: Seems to be related to a couple of the author's other books.

REASON FOR READING: She was Author of the Month in my favourite yahoo discussion group.

After spending the last few years as a gambler, smuggler, and rogue, Cyprian Sloane is ready for a new life of respectability. As part of his plan to reform, Cyprian has moved into a proper new home and begun courting the eminently suitable Hannah Cowdlin. The only roadblock on Cyprian's new path is Morgana Hart, Hannah's cousin and Cyprian's new neighbor. To help out her maid's sister, Lucy, and three other young ladies who have escaped from a ruthless madam, Morgana has been secretly running a "school for courtesans." If the ton finds out, the potential scandal will ruin not only Morgana but Cyprian as well. Unless, of course, Cyprian reverts to the rake he once was to help the lovely and vexing lady with her daring and dangerous scheme.
MY THOUGHTS: I abandoned this one around the mid-point. As pleasant and readable as it was (and most of it was, quite), my suspension of disbelief was feeling too strained and I was muttering "are you fucking kidding me?" to myself a bit too frequently.

The funny thing is that it was not having the gently bred, innocent heroine found a school for courtesans that had me going. Oh, no, that was actually done in a way that it felt downright plausible. What baffled me was the hero's firm conviction that if Morgana's little school was discovered, the scandal would ruin his plans for respectability, because -wait for it!- he lived next door to her! Give. Me. A. Break.

MY GRADE: DNF for this one, although I would give this author another shot.

TITLE: The Roman's Virgin Mistress (heinous title, isn't it?)
AUTHOR: Michelle Styles

PAGES: 296
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historical Romance

SETTING: Baiae, 69 BC
TYPE: Straight Romance



Silvana Junia knows what the gossips say about her - and doesn't care! Until a mysterious, dangerous stranger rescues her from the sea, and she's instantly drawn to him.


Lucius Aurelius Fortis is rich and respected. But his playboy past could come back to haunt him if he cannot resist his attraction to beautiful Silvana. And in the hot sun of Baiae their every move is watched…


Tempted beyond endurance, Silvana will become his mistress. But she has one last shocking secret…which will change everything between them!
MY THOUGHTS: You know, I've had this same problem with many of the "exotic setting" books I've bought. Great atmosphere, great research, a setting that feels and tastes real and is quite fascinating... but a blah story and characters.

Baiae was fantastic and I loved to visit there (even if at times the writing was of the "I've researched this and I'm going to cram every fact I've discovered into my story, whether it's necessary or not!" variety), but I wish I'd visited with other characters. I cannot stand the martyr heroine who sacrifices herself for her undeserving little brother who treats her like shit. I cannot stand her in a Regency setting, and I cannot stand her in ancient Rome, either. Fortis was nice enough, and Silvana did get her head out of her ass in the end, but... eh.


TITLE: The Greek's Bought Wife
AUTHOR: Helen Bianchin

PAGES: 185
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Modern

SETTING: Contemporary Australia
TYPE: Straight Romance
SERIES: I don't think so

REASON FOR READING: An experiment. Pick one of those horribly-titled books at random and see if what's inside matches the quality of the title.

Made to marry-for her baby's sake!

Nic Leandros knows that most people want only his money. So when he finds out beautiful Tina Matheson is pregnant with his late brother's child, he's certain her price will be high...However, Tina must agree to his terms: no Leandros heir has ever been born out of wedlock; they will marry for the baby's sake...


MY THOUGHTS: There's one word for what I read of this book (about 50 pages, that is), and that's "bad". Bad, bad, bad, bad, BAD. An overbearing jerk of a hero, a doormat heroine whose character motivations had me scratching my head, awkward writing and my favourite: a crazy skank of an ex-mistress who's obsessed with the hero. I just couldn't subject myself to this, even for the sake of experimentation.

MY GRADE: A DNF, but it was heading towards low-D territory, maybe even the dreaded F.


Lord of the Fading Lands & Lady of Light and Shadow, by C.L. Wilson

>> Wednesday, November 14, 2007

TITLE: Lord of the Fading Lands & Lady of Light and Shadow
AUTHOR: C.L. Wilson

PAGES: 384 for each.

SETTING: City of Celieria
TYPE: Fantasy Romance
SERIES: Books 1 & 2 in the Tairen Soul series. From what I can see in Wilson's website, there will be four books in all, with the titles of the last two being King of Sword and Sky and Queen of Song and Souls. Those two will also be about Rain Tairen Soul and Ellysetta Baristani, and they're coming out in October and November 2008.

REASON FOR READING: Buzz, buzz, buzz, all over the place!

Long ago, in the magical holocaust known as the Mage Wars, the immortal Fey and their allies fought to defeat the grasping evil of the Elden Mages and their dark-gifted supporters. During those wars, in a fit of grief-induced madness caused by the death of his mate, Fey shapeshifter Rain Tairen Soul nearly destroyed the world in a blaze of tairen fire.

Now, a thousand years later, the fierce Fey king must fight to save his race from the brink of extinction and once again stop the evil rising in the homeland of his enemies, the Eld. The key to his success lies in the mortal city of Celieria, where the Mage Wars began, and with a young woman whose soul sings to him in ways no woman's ever has, whose presence reawakens the primal fury of the tairen within his soul, and whose vast, untapped power can either save or destroy him and his people.

Since her earliest memories, Ellysetta Baristani has feared magic, even as she has been inexorably drawn to all things Fey, especially the poetry and legends of Rain Tairen Soul. Now claimed as Rain's truemate and no longer able to deny her own magic, Ellysetta is swept into the very center of a struggle filled with the magic and darkness she has always feared. The High Mage of Eld wants to capture her. The most murderous dahl'reisen who ever lived wants her dead. And her enemies will corrupt even the people she loves most in their quest to claim her magic for themselves.
I've made two or three attempts to write a plot description of these books, and it's hopeless. I've tried to keep them simple, but I always end up going on about the Fey this and the Tairen that and the Mage Wars and the Eld and the Celierians and Rain touching the Tairen Soul and blah, blah. Someone who hasn't read the books yet will be completely lost reading such a summary, and someone who's already read them won't need it. Given this, I think it would be better if I just gave you a very, very basic idea of what the books are about, and don't get bogged down in the details.

Our hero is Rain Tairen Soul, an immortal being, part of a magical race called the Fey. His race is dying, and he finds out from a powerful magical object that the key to its survival is in the nearby mortal kingdom of Celieria.

Arriving there as head of a huge delegation, he immediately gets an inkling of what this key might be when he senses his truemate is near. Now, finding a truemate is a huge deal for the Fey, as the link between them is immensely powerful. Rain had actually already had a mate 1000 years earlier (remember, immortal being here) and went completely mad when she died, so mad that he literally scorched the world with his great powers. And this wasn't even a truemate, but a regular mate, so believe me: huge deal.

The truemate in question is tradesman's daughter Ellysetta Baristani, at first sight a regular gal. Ellysetta is initially half-terrified, half-intimidated by this legendary being who's suddenly intent on claiming her as his, but soon becomes convinced of the rightness of it. And as their courtship proceeds, facing seemingly everyone's disapproval, she'll come to see him more as a person she can actually love than as an almost-god.

As I hinted above, their courtship doesn't run smoothly. Part of it is that Ellysetta needs to trust and accept Rain completely for the bond to actually happen on her side, and this is hard for her, and not just because of her initial awe. Ellysetta isn't at all a regular gal, it turns out. There's powerful magic deep inside her, a magic she's been pressured into suppressing for years, and letting go of that fear will depend on her going against the conditioning of a lifetime -and against her family.

And in addition to this, the external opposition against them is fierce... from the plots of a scummy Celierian young man who is obsessed with having Elly (and her magic) all to himself, to Elly's mother honest fear that becoming mated with a Fey will mean Elly's moral ruin, from Celierian noblemen's distrust of the Fey, to the Eld, the Fey's longtime enemies who have a very mysterious interest in Ellysetta.

As I mentioned above, this whole big, big story will take a full four books. Ordinarily I'd say wait until all four are out, but I'll make an exception here and say go read these two. While the overarching storyline of the fate of the Fey and the battle against the evil Eld will only find closure by the end of the whole series (I asssume!), I think there's enough emotional resolution in Elly and Rain's story by the end of book 2, enough for me to not feel dissatisfied when I finished it. Just don't start reading book 1 without having book 2 close at hand, because you'll be desperate to read the latter when you finish the former!

So what did I like about these books? I think Wilson's story is probably the best balanced combination of epic fantasy and romance I've ever read. I've read excellent, strong epic fantasy with some romance and I've read excellent, strong romance with a bit of epic(-ish) fantasy mixed in, but this is the first time I've read something where the epic fantasy was so much in the forefront and yet, the book was recognizably and quintessentially a romance novel. This is a big, big story, with complex and fascinating worldbuilding and with a half-dozen different threads intertwining, and yet it's perfectly accessible and satisfying for the romance reader; perfectly balanced and integrated.

As a fantasy, it's top-notch (not that I'm exactly a connoisseur of fantasy, but as Jane pointed out when I mentioned this in a chat, what I've read of it has been the very cream of the genre), and as a romance (where I am pretty confident of my knowledgeability!) it's fantastic.

Yes, this is a "mate, mate, mine, mine, mine" story (and I'm sure quite a few of you groaned when I mentioned this in my summary), but it's done the right way. Wilson doesn't substitute the process of falling in love with a simple and immediate "we're mates, so that's it, we're in love". The truemate bond as she writes it is way more complicated than this. In fact, not only does it not immediately imply love, it actually complicates the love relationship quite a bit, as both Rain and Elly have to come to terms with how this involuntary link might affect a more willing and fragile bond like love.

Ah, I loved single-minded Rain. He's a total alpha, but the protective kind of alpha, and Elly is the perfect kind of heroine for someone like him, since she's more than strong enough in her own right. She doesn't seem so at first, but she really comes into her own during the story, and the shocking revelations about her past make complete and total sense. And it's not just the main characters who were three-dimensional and well-realized... all the different secondary characters are subtly drawn and play very real roles in the plot, giving the story a lot of depth.

MY GRADE: I can't really grade these two books separately: an A- for them, then!


Robin Hood, Stonehenge and Bath

>> Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I just realized I forgot to mention here that I've posted loads of new photos at my photoblog. There's a Robin Hood pageant (complete with videos of jousting), a visit to Stonehenge and two posts with photos of a visit to Bath (Part 1 and Part 2).


Bloodring, by Faith Hunter

>> Tuesday, November 06, 2007

TITLE: Bloodring
AUTHOR: Faith Hunter

PAGES: 352

SETTING: Post-apocalyptic Earth
TYPE: Fantasy
SERIES: Starts one. Followed by Seraphs and Host

REASON FOR READING: I heard about it in one of the yahoo groups I'm in, and what I heard, especially about the world it was set in, sounded interesting.

In a novel filled with lush imagery and exhilarating action, Faith Hunter creates a near-future world caught in the throes of an ambiguous apocalypse-where a woman with everything to hide finds her true destiny revealed.

As humanity struggles with religious strife and seraphs and demons fight a never-ending battle, a new species has arisen. "Neomages" are human in appearance, but able to twist left-over creation energy to their will. A threat to both humans and seraphs, they are confined in luxurious Enclaves.

Thorn St. Croix is no ordinary neomage. Nearly driven insane by her powers, she is smuggled out of an Enclave and now lives among humans, channeling her gift of stone-magery into jewelry making. But when Thaddeus Bartholomew, a dangerously attractive policeman, tells her that her ex-husband has been kidnapped, Thorn risks revealing her identity to find him. And for Thorn, the punishment for revelation is death.
THE PLOT: The summary I quote above is actually really good, so I won't bother with my own.

MY THOUGHTS: I'm afraid this book was a bit of a disappointment. On the positive side, the world Hunter created showed much promise. I thought the premise and many of the details were fascinating and fresh. I mean, the action takes place about a hundred years after Earth suffered an apocalypsis, almost right out of the Bible visions. The people in this story are the descendants of the few survivors of the catastrophes, and it's a world with a very close and immediate relationship with the formerly intangible mysteries of religion, which are now right there. In that sense, it reminded me of parts of Sharon Shinn's Samaria series. And even more intriguing, there are some hints that things might not be quite as clearly-cut Biblical as most people assume. This doesn't really go anywhere in this book, but I would imagine there will be more developments later. With this basic premise, Hunter managed to create an atmosphere I could almost taste, it felt so real.

But... I started out the book feeling like I had some catching up to do, and never managed to succeed. It's obvious that this is not a world the author is making up as she goes along. Everything here indicates that has a detailed universe in her mind and that it has its own rules and its own complex history. And that's great, that's just as it should be with fantasy. The thing is, what's probably really obvious in her mind wasn't always as obvious to me, the reader, and I spent much of the book feeling a bit lost, for all that I was reading slowly and carefully. There are things that still don't make sense to me now, like why exactly the neomages are so hated, or the exact nature of the kylen and what happened between Thorn and the seraphs all those years before. As for the ending and the final confrontation, with that seraph intervention, I'm still scratching my head over it. I can't make up my mind if this is all something I should have understood completely or if it's some kind of cliffhanger-ish ending.

In addition to this, though the characters were interesting, they all felt distant to me, including the narrator, Thorn. There was a detatched feel to her reactions; even when we were told she was terrified, I just couldn't feel it. Hunter told us this kind of thing, rather than show us. I just thought Thorn was a bit dull and never particularly cared about the whole thing with her ex-husband being kidnapped. What's more, I never truly got why she would care, either. That's the kind of thing I mean, even after reading the whole book, the narrator is still a mystery to me.

MY GRADE: I'm regretfully going to have to go with a C-. I would be interested in seeing in what direction Hunter takes her world, but actually reading this book was too frustrating for me to continue with the series.


Die For Me, by Karen Rose

>> Sunday, November 04, 2007

TITLE: Die For Me (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Karen Rose

PAGES: 500
PUBLISHER: Headline in the UK (the edition I read) and Warner Vision in the US

SETTING: Contemporary Philadelphia
TYPE: Romantic Suspense
SERIES: Linked to a couple of Rose's earlier books (she has a very helpful diagram in her website, here), but stands alone perfectly.

REASON FOR READING: I've been hearing a lot about Rose from my fellow bloggers, and the buzz has been overwhelmingly positive. I meant to try her months ago, but only got around to it now.


The first victim is found in a snow-covered Philadelphia field. Detective Vito Ciccotelli enlists the aid of archaeologist Sophie Johannsen to determine exactly what lies beneath the frozen ground. Despite years of unearthing things long buried, nothing can prepare Sophie for the matrix of graves dug with chilling precision. The victims buried there haunt her. But the empty graves terrify her – the killer isn’t done yet.


He is cold and calculating, the master of a twisted game. Even with Vito and Sophie hot on his trail, he will not stop. One more empty grave must be filled, and one last scream must be heard – the scream of an archaeologist who is too close for comfort and too near to resist…
THE PLOT: When a body is dug up from a field and it seems likely that there are others nearby, the Philadelphia police asks archeologist Sophie Johannsen for help mapping the area. When it turns out some of the bodies she helps them find went through tortures straight out of the Inquisition before they died, Sophie's knowledge of such matters really comes in handy to Det. Vito Ciccotelli and his team.

And they'll really need all the help they can get, because this is a particularly cold and dangerous killer, and one who won't allow them to distract him from his plans. As the police gets closer and closer to him, the danger to Sophie, for whom Vito has started to have some serious feelings, grows and grows.

MY THOUGHTS: Before Die For Me, I'd been going through a bit of a dry spell with romantic suspense. Except for Nora Roberts', the ones I've tried so far this year have been pretty mediocre. I think I read the last good one back in April, Gayle Wilson's Bogeyman, and even that one had a pretty weak romance, for all that I liked the suspense. Well, Karen Rose has restored my faith in the subgenre. This is what I want my romantic suspense to be... strong, interesting suspense and a romance that's just as strong and just as interesting. I want balance, I want no element to overshadow the others, and this was what I got here.

I was actually a bit scared of this book before I started it, because the suspense plot sounded like something that could give me nightmares for weeks on end. But for what it's about, it was actually surprisingly non-graphical. I mean, you do find out exactly what the villain did to his victims (and man, this guy was seriously screwed), so it's not THAT harmless, but at least there were no actual scenes of torture. I don't think I would have been able to tolerate those. As this was written, I didn't get any queasy feelings that Rose was trying to titillate her readers with the violence. Everything we saw was necessary to the story and made it stronger.

Something I loved, loved, LOVED was that the police here were smart, much smarter than the villain thought they would be, so it was fascinating to follow their progress. I get really frustrated when I'm reading a romantic suspense and the investigators just won't take the obvious steps and make the obvious deductions (what are the obvious steps and deductions? Well, anything I can think of that they should be doing, really. If I can think of it, they should, too). Here it was perfect. The investigation was smartly conducted and felt realistic, and I loved that they kept getting closer and closer.

And not just them, the villain was being circled from many directions, which was something else I enjoyed. What I see most often is this kind of thing in reverse... hero and heroine doing their thing, thinking they're safe, but danger is approaching without them knowing. Here it's the villain who's being "stalked" without his knowledge, and it works to keep the tension and suspense high, even though we're privy to the villain's intentions from the first and it becomes pretty obvious who he is about halfway through the book.

Rose doesn't just write great suspense, she writes great characters, too, and great romance. Sophie was fantastic. She was a really smart, strong woman, and I liked the way Rose wrote her involvement in the case. Initially she jumps at the chance of getting involved, but then when Vito explains that he'd prefer that her connection to the case wasn't in a way that could become public, because it might put her in danger, she actually sees his point immediately and agrees that she won't get involved in that way. And she doesn't. All her participation is in things that won't represent any danger to her and to her family, as any reasonable person would prefer.

She's just a very well-rounded, three-dimensional character, with a fully realized past and a complex relationship with her family and a just as complex attitude to her work at the museum.

Vito is also a lovely, interesting guy. His relationship with his family was as complex as Sophie's, but very different, and it gave his character great depth.

In spite of the very strong suspense plot, the romance wasn't at all eclipsed by it, and I never got the feeling I sometimes get in books like this that the very presence of a romance was inappropriate. There was real chemistry between Vito and Sophie and their relationship flowed well. I loved that it didn't feel just like danger-induced lust; there was some real tenderness there. By the end of the book, I fully believed they were in love.

MY GRADE: A strong B+. There was a little extra zing missing to push it into A territory, but I have no problem seeing another of her books making it.


The Sharing Knife Vol.2: Legacy, by Lois McMaster Bujold

>> Friday, October 26, 2007

TITLE: The Sharing Knife Vol.2: Legacy
AUTHOR: Lois McMaster Bujold

PAGES: 377

SETTING: Lakewalker territory, mostly (i.e. made-up place!)
TYPE: Fantasy romance
SERIES: Comes after The Sharing Knife Vol. 1: Beguilement, and it's not so much a sequel, as the second half of a long book. I would definitely recommend reading Vol. 1 before you even think of picking up this one. In fact, better don't even read the summary below before reading Beguilement, because it will spoil it for you. Just go read the review of the first book, if you want to know if this whole story is for you.

REASON FOR READING: I loved Beguilement and I wanted to know how things turned out.

Fawn Bluefield, the clever young farmer girl, and Dag Redwing Hickory, the seasoned Lakewalker soldier-sorcerer, have been married all of two hours when they depart her family's farm for Dag's home at Hickory Lake Camp. Having gained a hesitant acceptance from Fawn's family for their unlikely marriage, the couple hopes to find a similar reception among Dag's Lakewalker kin. But their arrival is met with prejudice and suspicion, setting many in the camp against them, including Dag's own mother and brother. A faction of Hickory Lake Camp, denying the literal bond between Dag and Fawn, woven in blood in the Lakewalker magical way, even goes so far as to threaten permanent exile for Dag.

Before their fate as a couple is decided, however, Dag is called away by an unexpected-and viciously magical-malice attack on a neighboring hinterland threatening Lakewalkers and farmers both. What his patrol discovers there will not only change Dag and his new bride, but will call into question the uneasy relationship between their peoples-and may even offer a glimmer of hope for a less divided future.

Filled with heroic deeds, wondrous magic, and rich, all-too-human characters, The Sharing Knife: Legacy is at once a gripping adventure and a poignant romance from one of the most imaginative and thoughtful writers in fantasy today.
THE PLOT: In Beguilement, Fawn and Dag met when they had a terrifying encounter with a malice, which led to something unprecedented happening with a sharing knife. Since what happened clearly gave Fawn some rights over that sharing knife, it was considered (mostly by Dag, really) that she should go with him to consult a Lakewalker maker about what it all meant. In the time they spent together they fell in love, in spite of the high odds against them, and managed to get past Fawn's farmer family's objections.

Legacy covers the second half of their journey. It starts as they leave farmer territory, right after their wedding, and head into the Lakewalkers' land. And if you thought Fawn's family were hard cases about their relationship, you'll now realize that they were positively mellow compared to the Lakewalkers!

MY THOUGHTS: This is a book that almost fell through the cracks in my reviewing... I read it not long after it came out, in July, but then completely forgot to post about it. Well, the good thing about having this happen is that it gives me a good indication that it was a great book: it's now been over three months and I remember it perfectly!

In a sense, this second half feels a bit better integrated than the first one. In Beguilement, the two battles taking place (that against the malices and Fawn and Dag's struggle for acceptance of their relationship) seemed to be pretty independent. We had the first confrontation and the unique activation of the sharing knife, but then the whole malices thing faded into the background, with the focus moving wholly onto Fawn and Dag slowly falling in love and then having to convince the people around them that they were right for each other.

This last theme continues in the first part of Legacy, mixed up with a whole lot of fascinating Lakewalker politics and power-struggles, but then the malices plot pops up again and the two separate threads mix in a most satisfying way, one feeding the other. What finally happened with that sharing knife was perfect.

And both threads were just as good. I talked about what made Fawn and Dag such great characters in the first book, and expounded at length about why I thought they were so perfect for each other. That's still the case here, and this made the romance truly top-notch.

As for the world-building, with the malices and the Lakewalkers and their mission, and the tension between them and the farmers... in one word: fantastic! We learn quite a lot more here, including some clues on where the malices might come from, and some indications that this might be some kind of post-apocalyptic world (or was that just me getting strange ideas?), and it's all absorbing and fresh. The very idea of the malices is worth the price of admission, as it's quite brilliant.

All this said, I enjoyed this second half of the story a little bit less than the first. I think the reason is that I was left with a hopeful feeling after Beguilement, but not so much after Legacy. Don't get me wrong, I'd definitely call the ending a HEA, but while I felt the farmers might get over their prejudices in time (in a looooong time), too many Lakewalkers were unpleasantly blinded by them and would be always unable to accept Dag's choices. My grumpy "why the hell would he want to live with these people?" question was answered wonderfully in the great ending, but I couldn't help but be a bit sad.

MY GRADE: A B+. There will apparently be more books in this series, and I'm looking forward to them.


It's York now, and yes, more and more books!

>> Wednesday, October 24, 2007

1 ) This week, the photos are from York, and what a beautiful city it is!

2 ) Also, I got yet more books from the library, though I did return a few, too! And this week it was only 4 novels. I did get a couple of guidebooks in preparation for next weekend's expedition, but that doesn't count, does it?


My top 100 ballot

>> Friday, October 19, 2007

In the end, after worrying I might not have time to do my ballot, I did vote in the AAR Top 100 Romances Poll.

My ballot is just an update of the one I submitted in October 2004, but it still took me a long time to do, because it wasn't just a matter of adding new keepers to the list. I had to figure out where to put them and I had to completely change the order of the books already there, because my tastes have changed quite a bit in the last 3 years. I think the whole ranking ans sorting took about 4 times as long as the actual choosing of books. *sigh*

Anyway, here's my list. If you want to know more about a particular title, I think I've reviewed most of these, and you can find links to those reviews here.

1. Lord of Scoundrels - Loretta Chase
2. Gaudy Night - Dorothy L Sayers
3. Born in Fire - Nora Roberts
4. Archangel, by Sharon Shinn
5. Daughter of the Game - Tracy Grant
6. Shining Through - Susan Isaacs
7. Beauty Like the Night - Liz Carlyle
8. Heart of Deception - Taylor Chase
9. Busman's Honeymoon - Dorothy L Sayers
10. Winter Garden - Adele Ashworth
11. Naked in Death - JD Robb
12. To Have and to Hold - Patricia Gaffney
13. In the Midnight Rain - Ruth Wind
14. My False Heart - Liz Carlyle
15. For My Lady's Heart - Laura Kinsale
16. Ravished - Amanda Quick
17. Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
18. Heart of Fire - Linda Howard
19. The Notorious Rake, by Mary Balogh
20. Demon Angel, by Meljean Brook
21. Anyone But You - Jennifer Crusie
22. The Bridal Season - Connie Brockway
23. Midsummer Moon - Laura Kinsale
24. Bliss, by Judy Cuevas
25. Mistress - Amanda Quick
26. Slightly Dangerous, by Mary Balogh
27. Dance, by Judy Cuevas
28. Uncommon Vows, by Mary Jo Putney
29. Trust Me - Jayne Ann Krentz
30. Slave to Sensation, by Nalini Singh
31. As You Desire - Connie Brockway
32. Shadowheart, by Laura Kinsale
33. The Viscount Who Loved Me - Julia Quinn
34. Fever Dreams - Laura Leone
35. Over the Edge - Suzanne Brockmann
36. Midnight Bayou - Nora Roberts
37. Family Man - Jayne Ann Krentz
38. Breathing Room - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
39. All Night Long - Michelle Jerott
40. Crocodile in the Sandbank - Elizabeth Peters
41. Welcome to Temptation - Jennifer Crusie
42. It Had to Be You - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
43. Heartthrob - Suzanne Brockmann
44. Hidden Riches - Nora Roberts
45. The Last Rogue - Deborah Simmons
46. Breathless - Laura Lee Guhrke
47. Lady Gallant, by Suzanne Robinson
48. Rapture in Death - JD Robb
49. One Summer - Karen Robards
50. Thunder and Roses - Mary Jo Putney
51. The Phoenix Code - Catherine Asaro
52. Trojan Gold - Elizabeth Peters
53. A Woman Scorned - Liz Carlyle
54. The Iron Rose - Marsha Canham
55. The Famous Heroine - Mary Balogh
56. Tell Me No Lies, by Elizabeth Lowell
57. Lord Perfect, by Loretta Chase
58. One Perfect Rose - Mary Jo Putney
59. The Gentleman Thief - Deborah Simmons
60. Witness in Death - JD Robb
61. By Arrangement - Madeline Hunter
62. A Summer to Remember - Mary Balogh
63. This Heart of Mine - Susan Elizabeth Phillips
64. A Great Catch - Michelle Jerott
65. The Shadowy Horses - Susanna Kearsley
66. One Good Turn - Carla Kelly
67. Paradise - Judith McNaught
68. Games of Command, by Linnea Sinclair
69. Mystic and Rider, by Sharon Shinn
70. Then Came You - Lisa Kleypas
71. Birthright - Nora Roberts
72. Lord of the Storm, by Justine Davis
73. See Jane Score, by Rachel Gibson
74. Fallen From Grace, by Laura Leone
75. To Love and To Cherish, by Patricia Gaffney
76. Mr. Impossible, by Loretta Chase
77. The Fire Rose, by Mercedes Lackey
78. Lover Awakened, by J.R. Ward
79. Match Me If You Can, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
80. High Noon, by Nora Roberts
81. Suddenly You - Lisa Kleypas
82. Two Little Lies, by Liz Carlyle
83. The Fairy Godmother, by Mercedes Lackey
84. Caressed by Ice, by Nalini Singh
85. More Than a Mistress, by Mary Balogh
86. Demon Moon, by Meljean Brook
87. The Sharing Knife Vol. 1 - Beguilement
88. The Silver Rose, by Susan Carroll
89. Bitten, by Kelley Armstrong
90. The Last Hellion, by Loretta Chase
91. Woman on the Run, by Lisa Marie Rice
92. The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt
93. Always to Remember, by Lorraine Heath
94. Spending, by Mary Gordon
95. Night Owl (from Hot Blooded anthology) - Emma Holly
96. The Devil You Know - Liz Carlyle
97. Lord of the Fading Lands, by CL Wilson
98. The Rules of Seduction, by Madeline Hunter
99. Something Shady, by Pamela Morsi
100. Love's Prisoner (from Secrets Vol 6 anthology) - MaryJanice Davidson


Oxford and more books

>> Thursday, October 18, 2007

1 ) I just posted photos from my visit to Oxford. There were so many of them that I ended up doing 3 parts:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

2 ) More books from the library. I keep telling myself to read the ones I've already got first, but I can't resist!

Don't know if the titles are big enough to see... that's The Roman's Virgin Mistress, by Michelle Styles (and what an awful title that is!), The Rogue's Return, by Margaret Moore and Ransom Bride, by Anne Herries


The Dumont Bride, by Terri Brisbin

>> Wednesday, October 17, 2007

TITLE: The Dumont Bride (excerpt)
AUTHOR: Terri Brisbin

PAGES: 299
PUBLISHER: Mills & Boon Historicals

SETTING: Late 12th century England.
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: First in a trilogy: followed by The Norman's Bride and The Countess Bride.

REASON FOR READING: Lots and lots of Mills & Boon Historicals in the library here, and since I really liked Brisbin's The King's Mistress, she was one of the first authors I grabbed.

Christian Dumont Had Been To Hell To Pay For The Sins of His Father...

Now a royal command to wed would restore all he had lost--but at what price? For though marriage to landed, beauteous Emalie Montgomerie seemed to present no hardship, his countess harbored a secret dangerous enough to destroy them both!

Though she held her honor unblemished in her heart, Emalie Montgomerie knew that coming unchaste to her bridal bed was a sin unforgiveable in a noblewoman. Still, the desire flaring in Christian’s eyes offered her hope. . .but would the prideful Dumont ever accept another man’s babe as his own?
THE PLOT: When Lady Emalie Montgomerie's father dies suddenly, she becomes vulnerable to Prince John's depredations. He's determined to gain power over Emalie's holdings by forcing her to marry a man in his control, and before long, Emalie has been compromised against her will. In the nick of time, however, she's saved from having to marry the man by Queen Eleanor's intervention, who arranges a marriage with a man called Christian Dumont.

Christian Dumont has spent almost a year starving in a dungeon as punishment for his father's treason against King Richard. He believes he's about to be executed but is granted a last minute reprieve... as long as he agrees to do an unspecified favour for the King's mother. That favour ends up being marriage to a heiress and the addition of her extremely rich estate to his own holdings, which seems too good to be true. And he realizes it might be when it turns out his wife is pregnant, even though the marriage hasn't yet been consumated...

MY THOUGHTS: Well, this was disappointing. The set-up was interesting, and it could have been a really good book, but it felt like the characters were circling around the issues throughout most of the book, never really going at them head-on. The whole thing felt unfocused, especially in the first half.

Christian was an especially frustrating character. His history of having his honour questioned and denied through no fault of his own might have turned him into a more tolerant person, less ready to condemn others for a perceived lack of honour, but this just wasn't the case. The Christian of the first half was a total lout, and an unnecessarily cruel one, to boot. He arrives at Emalie's estate and immediately shunts her aside, even though it's obvious to anyone, even to him, that she's been running the holding on her own for some time and doing a fantastic job. Does he even consider the fact that his actions publicly humiliate her? He doesn't care. Does he consider that she might have some good ideas to add, given the success she's had already? No, he doesn't even think of it. So he's stupid as well as cruel.

And this is even before he discovers his wife is pregnant by another man, when he had no reason to believe anything bad of her. When he finds out about her "lack of honour", he goes insane, and I felt like strangling him. And Emalie doesn't help. She's so passive! She does try to explain to Christian that what happened was against her will, but he gets all outraged and goes "So you're crying rape now?" "Crying rape"?? Why should he doubt her? Idiot. And Emalie makes no more than a half-hearted protest. I mean, maybe he wouldn't have paid any attention, even if she'd protested more strongly (probably not, the stupid pig), but she doesn't even try.

I guess this was all necessary for Christian's later realizations about the nature of honour and what it means to lose it vs. being perceived to lose it, but it didn't make for a very sympathetic character. Plus, come on, man, it should have been obvious to you, considering what happened to you and your brother because of your father's actions!

And given his cruelty, I wasn't at all happy when the romancey stuff went into high gear. When Emalie started to get tingly feelings for her husband, I really didn't understand why she would feel that way.

MY GRADE: C- is really the best I can do. I'm giving it extra points for the atmosphere, which was good.


Innocent in Death, by JD Robb

>> Friday, October 12, 2007

TITLE: Innocent in Death

PAGES: 385
PUBLISHER: Piatkus (published by Berkley in the US)

SETTING: New York City in the year 2060
TYPE: Romantic suspense
SERIES: Latest in the In Death series (# 25, by my count)

REASON FOR READING: This is by far the best romance series ever, and I love every entry of it.

The phenomenal series set in a future New York City returns as NYPSD Lt. Eve Dallas hunts for the killer of a seemingly ordinary history teacher—and uncovers some extraordinary surprises. Craig Foster's death devastated his young wife, who'd sent him to work that day with a lovingly packed lunch. It shocked his colleagues at the private school, too, and as for the ten-year-old girls who found him in his classroom in a pool of bodily fluids—they may have been traumatized for life.

Eve soon determines that Foster's homemade lunch was tainted with deadly ricin, and that Mr. Foster's colleagues have some startling secrets of their own. It's Eve's job to sort it out—and discover why someone would have done this to a man who seemed so inoffensive, so pleasant . . . so innocent.

Now Magdalena Percell . . . there's someone Eve can picture as a murder victim. Possibly at Eve's own hands. The slinky blonde—an old flame of her billionaire husband, Roarke—has arrived in New York, and she's anything but innocent. Roarke seems blind to Magdalena's manipulation, and he insists that the occasional lunch or business meeting with her is nothing to worry about... and none of Eve's business. Eve's so unnerved by the situation that she finds it hard to focus on her case. Still, she'll have to put aside her feelings, for a while at least—because another man has just turned up dead.

Eve knows all too well that innocence can be a facade. Keeping that in mind may help her solve this case at last. But it may also tear apart her marriage.
THE PLOT: Eve is investigating the death of private school teacher Craig Foster, who was found poisoned at his desk. She's getting nowhere fast, finding no real reason why anyone should want to kill a nice, harmless man like Craig. Even when she finds some suspicious secrets in the school, things don't add up in her head.

It doesn't help that her relationship with Roarke suddenly feels under threat. Having hordes of women hitting on her husband has never fazed Eve in the past, but Magdelana Purcell isn't just any other woman: she's the only woman who actually dumped Roarke, rather than been dumped by him. She's obviously hellbent on creating trouble, and Roarke seems blind to it.

MY THOUGHTS: As always with these books, there's the case and there's the relationship stuff. They're well integrated, and everything, but still something I might evaluate separately. In this case, both were great.

I found myself genuinely interested in finding out why exactly someone might want to see Craig dead. The mystery is slowly and carefully developed, and the culprit doesn't come out of the blue at all. When you discover what happened, you look back and wonder why you didn't see it. Maybe for the same reason Eve wasn't seeing it, I guess, though I did consider it at one point and then thought "nah, she wouldn't". Anyway, fascinating and incredibly creepy.

But the Magdelana thing, oh, wow! In the first place, I loved the glimpse at the young Roarke, and I also loved the angst this whole thing created. It was great, great angst, too, because Nora managed to build it into something truly significant and important, something Eve was perfectly right to be upset about, but all without any real possibilities that Roarke would actually do anything, be even interested in doing anything with Magdelana. What's more, Eve knew perfectly well this was the case, but still, it felt right that she would be destroyed by the situation.

For I while I wanted to smack the boneheaded idiot for not realizing exactly what the incredibly obvious bitch was doing, but this lasted the exact right amount of time... long enough to get the full effect, not long enough to make it frustrating. It was all well solved, too, very satisfyingly, though was there really a need for her to hit him, too? ;-)

Oh, and another great thing was seeing the great support network of girlfriends Eve has created come into action. She's really come along way since book 1, hasn't she?

The only minus in the whole book? The name Magdelana. That drove out of my head. I suppose her parents might have spelled her name however they wanted, but something in me kept screaming "It's Magdalena, not Magdelana!!!!!" every single time.

MY GRADE: A very satisfying, solid B+.


Distant Voices, by Barbara Erskine

>> Monday, October 08, 2007

TITLE: Distant Voices
AUTHOR: Barbara Erskine

PAGES: 488
PUBLISHER: Harper Collins

TYPE: Anthology - varies

REASON FOR READING: There are tons and tons of Barbara Erskine books in charity shops here, and I enjoyed the two of hers that I've read.

In her second volume of short stories, which follows the hugely successful Encounters, Barbara Erskine has created a wide and vivid range of worlds and emotions, From love, romance, loneliness, grief, to betrayal, passion, adventure and compelling suspense.

A biographer investigating a tragic death hears voices from the past drawing her towards the truth... A nineteenth-century parson's daughter is caught tip in the excitement and romance of a smuggling intrigue... A young boy from a deprived background finds his own haven in the wastelands of the inner city... A young woman, struggling to choose between love or her career, finds help from an unexpected source...

Contemporary, historical, spooky, humorous, there are over thirty delightful stories, each one guaranteed to capture the reader's imagination, and all demonstrating Barbara Erskine's unique powers its a storyteller.
MY THOUGHTS: Of those 488 pages I've read only 34. Three short stories, and not one of them I thought was worth reading, so I just quit.

Let's see: the first story was about a journalist who's investigating an old mysterious death and sees some ghostly apparitions in the house where it happened. This one was probably the best of the three, but still very mediocre. Nothing really happens, and this is not compensated by great characterization or atmosphere, or anything like that. So the story just felt pointless. Why am I being told about this, why should I care?

Then the second was about a woman whose estranged husband, a high-powered businessman, comes back after years and tells her he's dropped out, become a poet and now wants her to represent him. Could have been ok, but it was very boring and again, pointless.

And the third I hated. It was about a woman who's married to her childhood sweetheart, and basically tells about how he cheats on her and she almost does the same, but instead, decides to forgive him. For the third time, totally boring and pointless and horrible, with cardboard characters and a really screwed-up message. Ugh.

Anyone read this one? Are any of the following stories worth it?

MY GRADE: DNF for this one, and I think if no one tells me I should give such and such a story a try, it goes back to Oxfam.


I'm in paradise

>> Sunday, October 07, 2007

There are libraries here! Duh, of course, and we do have libraries in Uruguay, but these are great libraries, with books I actually want to read for pleasure, not just books to study from!

I didn't even look for "lighter" fiction (meaning non-classics) in the university library, but there is a branch of the Nottinghamshire library service about 10 minutes for me,and I joined a couple of days ago. And went completely insane immediately thereafter. I ended up lugging home a huge pile of books, and this was my take after I'd whittled down the initial pile I'd gathered, which was easily twice as big. I had to assure myself I can go back and get them later on, once I'm done with these.

This is just too cool! I can search the library, reserve books or request them from other branches, renew my books, all online. And I can borrow from any of the branches, so I can go to the Central Library in downtown Nottingham and go even more nuts.

The only thing that's not so great is that the romance books are shelved all over... there's only Mills & Boons in the "Romance" section, plus maybe a couple of books which happen to have naked-people covers, but the rest are in the strangest places. Crime and Mystery, Fantasy, Science Fiction... I even saw some Sherrilyn Kenyons shelved in Horror (and won't the typical reader looking for horror be shocked if he or she picks them up!). So I have to check *everything* to find books, but it's worth it.

Anyway, here's my haul:


Lover Unbound, by J.R. Ward

>> Thursday, October 04, 2007

TITLE: Lover Unbound (excerpt, buy ebook here)

PAGES: 528
PUBLISHER: Signet Eclipse

SETTING: Contemporary Caldwell, New York
TYPE: Vampire romance
SERIES: # 5 in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series


In the shadows of the night in Caldwell, New York, there’s a deadly war raging between vampires and their slayers. And there exists a secret band of brothers like no other—six vampire warriors, defenders of their race. Now, the cold heart of a cunning predator will be warmed against its will…

Ruthless and brilliant, Vishous son of the Bloodletter possesses a destructive curse and a frightening ability to see the future. As a pretrans growing up in his father's war camp, he was tormented and abused. As a member of the Brotherhood, he has no interest in love or emotion, only the battle with the Lessening Society. But when a mortal injury puts him in the care of a human surgeon, Dr. Jane Whitcomb compels him to reveal his inner pain and taste true pleasure for the first time- until a destiny he didn't choose takes him into a future that cannot include her.
MY THOUGHTS: Yippee for the ebook coming out quickly after the release! I find myself unable to seriously review the BDB books, so just some disjointed impressions. And there will be many, many spoilers!!!, so be warned. Only go on if you've read the book already.

On the whole, I enjoyed most of the book, right until the end, which sucked. Even before that there were parts I thought were really, really lame, but I was still finding myself absorbed by what's going on in Ward's universe.

  • There's a central love story, as in all the books in the series, and it was one I liked -until the very end. Before the book started, I wondered how Ward was going to deal with two aspects: a) V's unorthodox sex life and b) the definite sexual vibe of his feelings for Butch. I hoped she wouldn't chicken out and that both these aspects wouldn't simply magically disappear and be denied.

    Well, she didn't chicken out, that's for sure, though I think some people might be disappointed because she doesn't portray BDSM as a lifestyle choice for V. It's simply the only way he can tolerate sex because of his horrific past, so it's something that's in a way "cured" by his love of Jane. I prefer not to take this as a wholesale condemnation of the BDSM lifestyle, just as the way *this particular character* is, and I have to confess I prefer it this way. I accept BDSM as a perfectly valid choice for whoever is into it, but it's not something that appeals to me, even in a story. So I was much more comfortable with the way things turned out here: there will always be some BDSM play between them, and V was able to use this as a way to exorcise his demons, but it won't be what their life will be about.

    Other than this, what we're told about V's past sex life is even more hard-core than I expected. Definitely no chickening out here, nor in the sexual nature of his attraction to Butch. Even Ward's most stubborn fans won't be able to deny it now (even if they were completely blind and were denying it after the very clear Lover Revealed). It's really out in the open, and V even tells Butch that's he's had sex with men in the past. The man is clearly not particularly into men or women, and his past sex life wasn't really about attraction to them, but about power. Once he finds people he cares about, he's into individual persons, whichever their sex. Butch is the first person he ever had real feelings for (Butch is not completely sure that it was love, though, even if V is) and then Jane.

    Anyway, I think this is probably the first mainstream romance where I've seen one of the protagonists "allowed" to be this way, and I celebrate the change. Just because of it, I hope this book does very, very well and that it will increase the probabilities that we might have m/m books put out by mainstream publishers.

  • Jane was probably Ward's strongest heroine to date (though, I know, that isn't saying all that much). I was a bit surprised by how quickly she just decides to give up her whole life, but eh, that would be part of the ending I hated. Before that, she took no shit from V at all, and I thought they were well-matched, even in the sexual plane. And I confess I thought that these two were seriously hot together, and in the end, really sweet. I was surprised to actually *like* the "mate, mate, mine" aspect of their romance.

  • The only thing I didn't like AT ALL about the V-Jane relationship was the ending. I'd go as far as to say I HATED it. As I read about her coming back from death I kept thinking "she's got to be kidding me". It was just incredibly lame and silly. It felt so easy and like such a cop-out. I mean, where's the cost? Jane is pretty much as she was, only now she won't die, and the SV lost a bunch of birds, which can be replaced, apparently. Oh, cry me a river.

    And for the first time, I can kind of see the argument of those who argue against the guaranteed HEA in romance novels, because as I was reading about Jane dying, I wasn't going "OMG, how sad, how awful, how horrible". No, I knew we had to get a HEA coming somehow, so I was just cooly thinking "Hmm, I wonder how she'll get around this?".

  • The other thing I thought was incredibly lame and silly was the language in the flashbacks and in the Chosen scenes. Again: Ms. Ward, you have got to be kidding me. Using the word "unto" doesn't make dialogue sound archaic, it just makes me laugh. The modern language wasn't that bad here, though every time I read the expression "for kicks and giggles" and one of the characters used the word "puss" for face, I wanted to punch something. These very words were used in her SSE release, The Billionaire Next Door, and they turned me off just as much there. I guess she must have been writing those two books at the same time.

  • The Primale plot: eh. Just reinforces my hate for the Scribe Virgin. All we saw of her in this book convinced me that on top of being a cruel bitch, she's also got incredibly bad judgment. I mean, chosing that crazy psycho to father her children? Is she insane? Aren't we told she can see into people and so on? And what about the Directrix? Yet another enormous error of judgment. And the Payne thing there at the end? Oh, my. The SV is even crueler than I'd thought. But this is an intriguing twist and I can't wait to see what's up with that (did I mention I'm addicted, still?).

  • I was creeped out by the Chosen and their lives (even more reasons why the SV must die!), and I think this is an area of the vampire universe that's ripe for a radical change. Maybe in the next book? I couldn't really tell from the excerpt if Phury's heroine will be Cormia. He seemed to be mostly irritated by her, even if he was turned on. We'll see.

  • Speaking of Phury, for some reason, even though I really dig virgin heroes (though, is he still a virgin now?), I'm not particularly desperate to read his book, probably because his obsession with Bella doesn't much resonate with me. Again, we'll see. Don't get me wrong, I am definitely going to read it, I'm just not going to suffer during the wait *g*

  • I was surprised by how there were pretty much no lessers here, other than a few fights and that traumatic scene near the end, which really felt out of the blue, given the lessers' previous absence. It's all explained by the fact that as the forelesser has died, I suppose. There's obviously going to be a quiet period as they regroup, so it makes sense, but still, I was surprised. It's a big difference with the other books that there are no scenes from the lessers' POV. I was actually interested in the lessers subplot in Lover Revealed, but I'm not going to complain that they weren't present here and that it was all about the Brotherhood. Is JRW listening to her fans to that extent?

  • I think my favourite parts of the book were the ones about John. He finally goes through his change here, and wow, John and Xhex? I could get really excited about that pairing. I loved that he turns down the sweet and submissive Chosen and is seriously turned on by the ball-buster Xhex. Even if I'd hated everything about the rest of the book, I'd continue reading the series just to see how this turns out.
MY GRADE: God, this is hard. Er... a C+?


Would you like to visit Sherwood Forest?

>> Wednesday, October 03, 2007

There you go, then.


Quick one

>> Sunday, September 30, 2007

I'm about to leave for a day in Sherwood Forest, so just a quick update.

The suitcase finally reached me last week (without the plastic wrap I'd put on it at the airport, but otherwise intact), so I now have clothes, yay! Thank you all for the good wishes and the positive thoughts *g*

I've started classes already; not my regular lectures, which start on the 8th, but the presessional classes. Last week was Maths, next week is Econometrics, and thank heavens we're doing that, because spending 6 years in the workforce after getting my degree has driven all the mathematical and econometric knowledge I once had out of my brain. Well, not really driven it out, but buried it under other stuff, so this breakneck speed overview we're doing in the presessional classes is really helping me remember it all again.

As for extracurricular activities, I've uploaded a ton of pics to my photo blog, so go check them out!


The River Knows, by Amanda Quick

>> Monday, September 24, 2007

TITLE: The River Knows
AUTHOR: Amanda Quick

PAGES: 368

SETTING: Victorian London
TYPE: Straight romance
SERIES: None, stands alone

REASON FOR READING: JAK in all her incarnations is my consumate comfort read, so I turned to her when worried about my missing suitcase ;-)

The first kiss occurred in a dimly lit hallway on the upper floor of Elwin Hastings's grand house. Louisa never saw it coming....

Of course, Anthony Stalbridge couldn't possibly have had romantic intentions. The kiss was an act of desperation meant to distract the armed guard from catching the pair in a place they did not belong. After all, Louisa Bryce, in her dull maroon gown and gold-rimmed spectacles, was no man's idea of an alluring female. The only thing the two interlopers have in common is a passionate interest in the private affairs of Mr. Hastings-a prominent member of Society whom they both suspect of hiding terrible secrets. Now, brought together by their ruse, Anthony and Louisa are united in their efforts to find the truth.

Each has a reason for the quest. Anthony's fiancée was said to have thrown herself into the Thames-but Anthony has his own suspicions. Louisa-whose own identity is shrouded in layers of mystery-is convinced that Hastings has a connection to a notorious brothel. When Anthony successfully cracks Hastings's hidden safe-and discovers incriminating evidence-it appears that both their instincts were correct.

Yet Hastings is hiding far more than jewels and ledger books. Bringing him to justice will be more perilous than they anticipate-and their partnership will be more heated than either one expects. For it is not only Anthony's curiosity that Louisa arouses, and the two share something else: a thrilling attraction to danger...
THE PLOT: Louisa Burton faked her own suicide and disappeared when she had to kill a predatory nobleman in self-defense. The young, pretty shopkeeper took inspiration in the recent suicides of two society ladies who'd just thrown themselves into the river, and one of whose bodies had never appeared. Some time later, she's working as a companion to a very forward-thinking lady and writing hard-hitting articles for a journal, trying to get some justice against noblemen who think nothing about ruining and hurting people, as long as they are in a lower position in society.

Louisa and Anthony Stalbridge meet when both are going after the same man, Elwin Hastings. Louisa is investigating his involvement in a notorious brothel, while Anthony suspects him of murdering his fiancée, one of the women whose suicide gave Louisa the idea of faking her own. When they are forced to pretend to be involved so as to get out of a tight spot, an unlikely partnership emerges between them.

MY THOUGHTS: The romance was actually quite good, almost back to the JAK I love, the JAK of the mid 90s. Anthony's complete and utter need for Louisa was well rendered, as was the tenderness he felt for her. Their interactions were very enjoyable, with plenty of banter. Oh, and the love scenes were very nice.

I also really liked Anthony's very unique family and Louisa's free-thinking employer. They were very enjoyable secondary figures.

Too bad the very humdrum suspense subplot wasn't up to par. The undeniable reiterativeness of AQ's stories doesn't usually bother me, but it did here, at least in this aspect. The actual romance was fine and, though both Louisa and Anthony were familiar figures, their relationship felt plenty fresh enough. But the suspense? Oh, man. "Oh, here we're coming to the scene when they go interrogate someone, and when no one answers the door they break in and find him dead." That kind of thing.

MY GRADE: A B. The romance more than compensates for the weaker suspense.


More photos up, and some good news!

>> Friday, September 21, 2007

First the good news: it seems the suitcase finally turned up! My dad just called me (he's been nagging the Montevideo Iberia employees to death these last few days) and he tells me it never left Sao Paulo, in Brazil. Everyone kept telling me how it had probably got lost in Madrid, because everyone loses suitcases in Madrid, but I was sure the fuck-up must have happened in Brazil. We arrived such a long time before our plane was to leave that someone must have put them aside to send and then forgotten about it.

So anyway, I'm trying to be cautiosly optimistic at most now. I won't celebrate until it actually reaches me here in Nottingham. On the positive side, this annoyance has allowed me to see just how incredibly generous some of my fellow students are. Lots of people lent me stuff, and everyone kept asking me if they could help.

And now for the pictures: a couple of the university are here (including the one I posted here yesterday, so it's old news to you), and if you want a whirlwind tour of downtown Nottingham, click here.

And yep, that's Robin Hood on that poster stuck on the wall of the City Council!


Still alive

>> Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ugh, I didn't even have time to post "bye bye, I'm off". But I was off, and I'm now settling down in Nottingham. Well, not really settling down, because until Saturday, when I can move into my permanent residence, I'm staying at one of the residence halls on campus, but hey, at least I've been able to log on to the internet with my laptop!

The trip was horrible; long and tiring and damned Iberia lost my luggage, which still hasn't been found (positive thoughts are very welcome and very needed!), but the university is lovely and so are the people. I've got pics, which I'll be posting later, as it's late today. I did manage to post photos of the trip and the last goodbyes at my photolog, though, so take a look at them here.

I leave you with one of the photos of the university (which I haven't yet posted on my photolog, so you guys have got an exclusive, LOL!)

That's the Portland building, on campus, which I've been to a lot on these first couple of days. And as you can tell from my clothes, it's incredibly cold for the end of summer, at least by Uruguayan standards!


Hard to Guard, by Nina Mamone

>> Tuesday, September 11, 2007

TITLE: Hard to Guard
AUTHOR: Nina Mamone

COPYRIGHT: 2007 (comes out today)
PAGES: About 23,000 words, which I'd say is short story length in those regular 4-story print anthologies.
PUBLISHER: Samhain Publishing

SETTING: Contemporary
TYPE: Paranormal Romance
SERIES: No, but it will be part of an anthology called "I Dream of Dragons II"

REASON FOR READING: The author emailed me and asked me if I'd like an ARC, and after checking out the summary, I said "yes, please!"

Two guardians + long-denied passion + a quest to recover a kidnapped wyrm = spontaneous combustion

I Dream of Dragons II

A construction worker by day, a Guardian by night, Connor has had it with the irresponsible antics of the wyrms he vowed to keep secret from the human world. The only reason he keeps going is to be near the sassy, sexy, but totally out-of-his-league Sorcha. However, for the past five years, Sorcha’s not-so-subtle digs have convinced him that she only sees him as a stuffy, wet blanket.

Sorcha lusts after Connor and may even love him. But after five years of poking, prodding, teasing—anything to get some kind of reaction, even a frown—she’s given up hope of having a relationship with him. He has made it very clear that working with her to find a kidnapped wyrm is the very last thing he wants to do.

An unaccounted-for wyrm is a deadly wild card, and after a dangerous aphrodisiac appears on the streets, Sorcha and Connor will have to join forces to ensure the safety of everyone they care about.
THE PLOT: As Guardians working for the Directorate, Connor and Sorcha's job is to take care of wyrms, dragons who can take human form and live among humans. Wyrms aren't the most responsible of beings, and it takes a lot of effort to make sure they remain a secret from the world at large. It's a bit like being a babysitter, and both are tired of it. The only reason they don't quit is that each sees the job as the only way they can keep in contact with the other.

Connor and Sorcha have known each other for five years, since the day they started training for their job. From the very first, the strong attraction between them caused them to behave strangely, and the result is that each is very misguided about the other's feelings. Connor is convinced Sorcha thinks him a priggish stick-in-the-mud, while Sorcha is sure Connor disapproves of her and can barely stand her.

But when the kidnapping of one of the wyrms forces them to work together, it becomes much harder to hide their true feelings.

MY THOUGHTS: I'm very glad I accepted the author's offer, because this was a fun, sexy story, with plenty of tingly romance.

Romance short stories are not really my favourites, as they're so hard to do and you usually get what feels like the bare bones of a larger story. But the good news is that short was the perfect length for this particular story. It helped that the outside plot was quite simple really. The thing about the wyrms and their Guardians and how this all works was fun and original, but at the same time, it was quite straightforward, and there wasn't a too-complicated mythology that took up tens of pages being introduced. Furthermore, the story was more character- than plot-driven, with the outside plot only providing the background for the change in Sorcha and Connor's relationship, but never really coming to the forefront.

I also liked that the relationship was one that was already pretty established, so the author wasn't forced to cram the entire thing into a few short pages, from the first meeting on. No, Connor and Sorcha's feelings are already there, and we're given just enough background info to understand them and their history. This was excellently done, and in the first part, the feelings of yearning for each other but believing it's hopeless were just yummy.

What we see in full is the resolution of the conflict that had kept them separate, and this was good, a nice combination of sexy and sweet. Sorcha did go a bit nuts afterwards, creating a conflict that felt slightly forced, but it didn't bother me excessively, as she saw reason soon enough.

MY GRADE: A nice, solid B.


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